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Georgia marks first Ahmaud Arbery Day as state ‘honors one of its most distinguished citizens’

A woman wears a button for Ahmaud Arbery outside the Glynn County Courthouse as the jury deliberates in Brunswick, Ga., on Nov. 21. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
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Georgia’s inaugural “Ahmaud Arbery Day” will take place Wednesday, after state lawmakers passed a resolution to memorialize the life of the young Black man murdered while out jogging.

State Rep. Sandra Scott (D) introduced House Resolution 688, which was passed by the Georgia General Assembly earlier in February, designating Feb. 23 to become an annual feature in memory of 25-year-old Arbery, who was shot and killed on a Sunday afternoon while jogging through the streets of Satilla Shores, a coastal subdivision.

“On February 23, 2022, the State of Georgia honors one of its most distinguished citizens,” the resolution said, describing Arbery as a loving son, brother and athlete, “prior to the senseless loss of his life because of the color of his skin.”

It added that Arbery, born in Brunswick, Ga., was “a compassionate and generous man,” who had “left an impact on countless Georgians and Americans.”

Wednesday is the second anniversary of his death.

Greg and Travis McMichael, William Bryan guilty of hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery killing

The day will be marked locally with prayer vigils and memorials. The state legislature also encouraged people in the community to run 2.23 miles in his memory.

The Ahmaud Arbery Foundation, established by his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, to honor his legacy and “support Black boys . . . with access to mental wellness resources,” is also encouraging people to “pause” for 23 seconds in memory of him on Wednesday or consider making a $23 donation to the foundation.

Birgit Smith Burton, the foundation’s board chair, called the designation “an honorable gesture” and told The Washington Post by email that it was a “step in the right direction for the state of Georgia.”

“We are grateful for the leaders who are using their position and influence to ensure that Georgia does what’s right in memory of Ahmaud,” she added.

The first Ahmaud Arbery Day comes one day after a federal jury convicted three White men of committing a hate crime when they chased and killed Arbery — the first race-based conviction in any of the high-profile slayings of Black people that sparked mass protests in 2020.

Jurors found the men, Gregory McMichael, 66; Travis McMichael, 36; and William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, guilty of all the federal charges they faced: using force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race, and attempted kidnapping.

Defense lawyers maintained that the men had been trying to stop and question Arbery not because of his race, but because the McMichaels suspected him of trespassing at a neighbor’s property in their coastal Georgia subdivision. U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said she will determine their federal sentences in coming weeks.

Following the verdict, Cooper-Jones said outside the courthouse: “Ahmaud will continue to rest in peace, but he will now begin to rest in power.”

She added: “We as a family will never get victory because Ahmaud is gone forever.”

Jury deliberations underway in hate-crimes trial of men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

The state legislation also noted that Georgia had overturned a “citizen arrest law that was written in the 1800s,” which was relied on by the defense and widely criticized for helping legitimize decades of racist vigilante violence. It also said lawmakers had previously introduced a Hate Crime Act, which seeks to penalize hate crimes in the state.

“February 23 will forever be known annually in the State of Georgia as The Ahmaud Arbery Day,” the legislation said.

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